Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was one of the first games I ever got a platinum trophy for. I’ve never been much of a trophy hunter, but when this dropped in 2012, something about it just grabbed hold of me and made me want to see and do everything there is to do. It didn’t have an especially engrossing story to tell or deep, complex systems to master, but what it did have was a big, colourful world to exist in, action that was satisfying despite its lack of complexity, and lots of mildly entertaining quests to undertake and dungeons to explore. It scratched the same itch as grinding levels on a secondary character in an MMORPG: brain-off fun with a constant stream of little goals to work towards and the dopamine hit of returning to a quest giver for a dose of experience points.
Fast-forward nine years and change, and the gaming world has changed. What Kingdoms of Amalur did in 2012, basically every big-budget game is doing now, and often on a scale and with a sense of ambition that couldn’t have been dreamt of a decade ago. “Big sprawling open-world adventure full of mindless but mildly entertaining tasks” is the same default game concept that platformers were in the ‘90s, and I’ve grown so, so very tired of them. And yet, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning still scratches that itch. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the slightly cartoony, Warcraft-esque art style that I always enjoy, but this remaster still hits all the same notes for me that the original did, despite how weary I’ve become with the open-world genre.
The world of Kingdoms of Amalur is far from original: a fantasy kingdom, home to various different races all caught up in a war because a certain group of dark elves (sorry, fae) set their ambitions a little too high. Your role in all this is the first and only successful outcome of an old gnome’s experiments in resurrection—a once-dead person brought back to life, with no memory of your previous life and your tethers to Fate cut in the process. And in a world doomed to destruction, someone who exists outside of Fate’s plan is the only one who can save the day.
Again, it’s familiar fantasy stuff, far from groundbreaking but still plenty enjoyable. More than just a convenient excuse for a character creator, the whole “Fateless One” thing plays an important role in how the story unfolds, not to the point of subverting the common heroic tropes of fantasy fiction, but at least to approach them in a slightly different way. The world is expansive and vibrant, full of characters ranging from earnest knights to scurrilous thieves to some real oddballs.
It’s a backdrop for the sort of mindless RPG fun that, when it comes together well, can be so satisfying and enjoyable. Drop into a new town full of people with yellow exclamation points over their heads, load up your quest log full of jobs to do, head out into the neighbouring danger zones to kill a bunch of things, then come back and reap the rewards. Level up, choose where to allocate your new talent points—giving you some degree of freedom in how you build your character, but not so much that you have to stress about ruining your whole game with a build that doesn’t work—and get shiny new loot to make your numbers get bigger.
There’s a lot of stuff to do, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming, and the experience-loot feedback loop is just right to keep things from ever getting too tedious. It helps that most of the quests revolve around combat that’s punchy and satisfying, with a decent array of weapons, special abilities, and magic spells. What the combat system lacks in depth, it makes up for in responsiveness and fluidity. It’s good, simple fun—nothing more, nothing less, but put together well enough that it’s still fun after dozens of hours.
That really sums up the Kingdoms of Amalur, in both its Reckoning and Re-Reckoning forms: nothing groundbreaking, but very good at finding the fun in those familiar RPG loops. What Re-Reckoning brings to the table are a few tweaks here and there, a new coat of paint, the inclusion of some downloadable content, and in the case of the Switch version, the convenience of a portable platform.
Even today, the original game is far from ugly, with a cartoonish art style that’s aged well; the remastering treatment doesn’t drastically alter the game, but just makes things look a little more clean and crisp. The tweaks to things like level zone calculations and the way loot generation works are very welcome, allowing a smoother transition from zone to zone and enabling the game to better keep up with your character’s level. Having DLC packed in is always nice, especially when that comes with some beefy starting equipment to let you hit the ground running.
But the biggest benefit of Re-Reckoning is Switch portability. This is a game that you can lose yourself in for hours at a time, or just dip in for a quick couple of quests to pass a train ride—either way, handheld play is a nice option. You can play in docked mode too, obviously, but this isn’t the sort of game that demands the grandeur of a big screen; there’s nothing quite like making a nice cup of tea, tucking yourself into bed, and just relaxing while you spend a few hours mindlessly questing and racking up those experience points.
How much you get out of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is really going to depend on what you expect from it. It’s a familiar fantasy action RPG, but comforting in that familiarity and easy to just lose yourself in. It may have been overshadowed by the games that have followed in its footsteps in the decade since Reckoning first came out, and Open World: The Game has well overstayed its welcome by now, but Kingdoms of Amalur finds the right balance of simple fun and routine yet satisfying RPG loops to make that format work, even today.
Title: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
Developer: 38 Studios, Kaito
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release date: 16 March 2021 (Switch), 8 September 2020 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.